Friday, June 6, 2014

Net Neutrality

It is unfathomable that we are on the precipice of destroying Internet equality. Allowing larger, established corporations to “purchase” faster and more reliable connectivity to their servers (which relegates their competitors to a second-class tier) flies in the face of the entrepreneurial spirit we as Americans claim to embrace. We like to believe that a business’s success is greatly predicated on the merit of its ideas and the dedication of their staff in bringing those ideas to fruition, but the truth is that the greatest Internet business model in the world is useless without an impartial medium to operate on.
The reason we have companies like Google today is because consumers were allowed to compare their interface and algorithm with their more established competitors in a neutral environment. What if Webcrawler had been allowed to pay large amounts of money to ISPs to artificially create a discernable latency gaps between themselves and those who threatened their market share? In a consumer environment where our patience is measure in milliseconds, it is disingenuous to insist that any paradigm that allowed one corporation to underwrite the inefficiency of their competitor’s ability to communicate with their own customers would not stifle innovation and entrepreneurship.

The only reason a travesty like this is even being considered is that it preys upon the generally populace’s unfamiliarity with the infrastructure connecting all of these sites. Let me give you an example utilizing a far more understood medium: The telephone.

Let's say that you live in a small town where the only pizzeria within the city limits is a nationally-recognized franchise. While you don’t necessarily dislike said franchise’s offerings, you have always wanted to open your own pizzeria. You file the necessary paperwork, secure the required capital, and devote countless hours renovating your location and perfecting your recipes. Meanwhile, the established franchise gets wind of your venture and calls the local telecommunications provider requesting to “optimize” their telephone service above yours. While pricey, this gives priority to calls directed at their business over those directed at yours.

At first, this seemed insignificant to you. A dropped call here, a bad connection there; but soon people are getting busy signals on Friday nights and Super Bowl Sundays because when push comes to shove the telecom company will drop your calls in favor of the franchise's. The issue continues to manifest itself as poor call quality and customers’ call-in orders are almost indiscernible. As a result, the wrong pizzas are consistently being prepared and delivered. Customers begin to complain and spread the word that your staff is incompetent and although your product is superior, they are tired of waiting on hold and having to call back twice just to get a thin-crust supreme delivered to their house.

You complain to the phone company and while they are apologetic, all they offer in the way of a resolution is giving you the opportunity to become a “gold business partner” like your franchised competitor. This presents a difficult choice since you are already struggling to generate revenue and certainly cannot afford to dramatically increase your recurring monthly operating cost. However, you realize that if you do not “pay up” the fact that you offer a superior product will be nullified by potential customers’ inability to access it. So you bite the bullet and pay up.

As a direct result your phone service improves, order accuracy increases and your customer base expands. Once again, your franchised competitor goes back to the local telecom company and offers to triple their monthly bill in exchange for inclusion in an as-yet non-existent “platinum business partner” tier. The phone company complies, creates the new tier and once again their calls are prioritized over yours. Yet again you are forced to call the phone company; they apologize, and offer to triple your monthly bill in exchange for membership in the “platinum business club.” This escalation continues unabated until the local franchise has bankrolled the creation of a “triple diamond business club” and you are no longer financially able to insure you receive the same level of phone service enjoyed by your competitor.

One might argue that we already have differing levels of service concerning the Internet. After all, don’t I pay more for the privilege of a faster Internet connection? Absolutely. However if you pay for a slow connection, every website your attempt to access (whether an established multi-billion dollar corporation or a two-man operation headquarter in a garage) will come to you equally as slow. 

Conversely, if I pay more for a really fast connection every website will load equally as fast. What is looming is a day where I pay for a really fast connection and the larger businesses load at the fast connection speed while smaller business load at the slow connection speed. And because I have no way of knowing which businesses have coughed up the ransom and which haven’t (and I pay for a high speed connection) I will assume that the latency is attributable to a lack of competence and innovation rather than a difference in operating capital.

It could get even worse. Perhaps Comcast is your current service provider and you decide to check out what DirectTV offers. You type in the web address or link from Google but you keep getting a "Page could not be displayed error" because Comcast has decided that traffic to their direct competitors doesn't deserve reliability.

If you wish to prevent such a future, please go to the FCC website and follow these steps to log a comment with the FCC:
                          1.      Click 14-28 “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet”
                          2.      Enter your information, leave a brief comment, and then select confirm.

(Note: If your comment is too long they further complicate the process and request that you upload a text document. Let’s just say that it is fortunate that the FCC.GOV website doesn’t have a competitor..)

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